Daily Archives: November 5, 2020

Spies

From the November 1, 2001 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Perhaps Fritz Lang’s most neglected major work, this stunning silent German thriller (1928) both summarizes and refines his first Dr. Mabuse film while introducing some of the principles of editing continuity found in M. Scripted by Thea von Harbou (Lang’s second wife), it pits a government agent (Willy Fritsch) against a wheelchair-bound international banker (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) whose spy ring is stealing classified documents, and its fanciful and imaginative approach to the thriller form clearly inspired both Alfred Hitchcock and Thomas Pynchon. This restoration of the 175-minute German release is almost twice as long as the much more common version released for export, yet Lang edited both of them, and each has glories of its own. Erotic, mysterious, abstract, full of uncanny images and ideas, and rich with multiple identities and intrigue, this is essential viewing for anyone interested in the great director’s work. With Gerda Maurus. (JR)

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Reality and History as the Apotheosis of Southern Sleaze: Phil Karlson’s THE PHENIX CITY STORY

From The Oxford-American, issue #42, Winter 2002. — J.R.

Karlson pushes and punches, but he’s good at it. He can dredge up emotion; he can make the battle of virtuous force against organized evil seem primordial.  He has a tawdry streak (there’s an exploitation sequence with a nude prostitute being whipped), and he’s careless (a scene involving a jewelry salesman is  a  decrepit mess), but in the onrush of the story the viewer is overwhelmed….One would be tempted to echo Thelma Ritter in All About Eve –”Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end” — but some  of the suffering has a basis in fact.
— Pauline Kael on  Walking Tall (1974)

1. What Qualifies as Real
As an Alabama expatriate who fled north the first chance I could get, I didn’t keep my southern accent for long; it fell away, in a matter of months, like dead skin. The fact was — and is — that Alabama accents sound stupid to Yankees; and since I was both a teenager and trying hard to become a Yankee, they eventually began to sound stupid to me. Especially during the Civil Rights Movement, already in full swing by then, having a southern accent, if you were white, made you sound like a racist to some people,  regardless of what you said or did.… Read more »

On Location with John Carpenter’s THE THING

From the July 1982 issue of Omni; reprinted in Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues (2018). As with all the other commissioned pieces I wrote for the Arts section of that magazine, this originally ran without a title; I’ve also done a light edit on this version. Another version of this article appeared in Cahiers du Cinema, with a different title (if memory serves, this was called “Beware of Imitations”).

While I was living in Europe in the 70s, I managed to watch portions of the shooting of films by Robert Bresson (Four Nights of a Dreamer), Alain Resnais (Stavisky…), and Jacques Rivette (Duelle and Noroit), but my trip to Alaska and British Columbia in December 1981 to watch a little bit of the shooting of John Carpenter’s The Thing was surely my most elaborate on-location visit, even though what I actually saw was much briefer in this case — hardly any more than an hour or two at most. And I didn’t even get to speak to Carpenter during my visit; absurdly enough, by arrangement with the film’s publicist, the interview in this piece was conducted over the phone several days later, with Carpenter calling me from Hollywood, after I returned to Hoboken, making the cassette recorder I had carried on my trip completely unnecessary and some portions of this piece necessarily deceitful.Read more »